Video: Hawks Compete, But Fall Short to Raptors

Ben Ladner

The Hawks have become all too familiar with the feeling of coming up just short. Against four of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta has nearly mounted successful comeback efforts, only to fall short in the final minutes. 

Unlike in some of recent losses, however, Saturday's 119-116 loss to the Raptors was not a product of a poor start or low energy. After Friday's dispiriting loss to the Pistons, Lloyd Pierce challenged his team to compete harder and bring the requisite focus and energy the NBA game demands. Atlanta came out with an intensity level they lacked in Detroit and kept the Raptors at arm's length all game. Rather than folding when Toronto made its runs or submitting to the opponent's terms, the Hawks played with effort and engagement for the duration of the game. 

"I didn’t think it was a lack of effort at all tonight, at any point, really," Pierce said. "That was the message last night. How do we just compete on a consistent and nightly basis, how do we compete every single possession? If we do that, everything else will kind of take care of itself." 

That didn't result in a win Saturday night -- Toronto was, and is, the better team. But the Hawks can't punch above their weight in games like these without effort, cohesion, and strong individual performances, which both Trae Young and De'Andre Hunter provided. Young (30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) went for his second career triple-double while Hunter (26 points, four assists on 10-of-17 shooting) played another brilliant all-around game. "I just thought [Young] was more vocal, more than anything," Pierce said. "I thought he was just way more engaged on both sides of the floor." 

It sucks that we lost, obviously, but if we play like that, it's going to be tough to beat us," Young said. "Obviously we're down a couple of guys, but the way we played tonight... If we play that way, we can turn teams around, and that's just what we've got to do every night." 

The Hawks also received strong performances from their role players. With Cam Reddish out for the second straight game, DeAndre' Bembry started once again and turned in 11 points, five rebounds, and four assists. (Saturday marked the second time in Bembry's career he has hit multiple 3s in consecutive games.) Vince Carter and Allen Crabbe turned in a combined 18 points off the bench while Bruno Fernando blocked two shots and dished three assists in 16 minutes. 

Toronto, ultimately, was too talented, too experienced, and too steady for the Hawks to break through. Marc Gasol, despite scoring just three points, was Toronto's most valuable player in the first half, buying the Raptors enough time for others to work their way into the game. Pascal Siakam almost coasted his way to 34 points on 11-of-18 shooting, while Fred VanVleet notched 25 points and nine assists. Norman Powell slashed and shot his way to 20. The Raptors hunkered down on the glass and at the rim after halftime, taking away Atlanta's two biggest first-half advantages, and shot 30 free throws for the night. 

Atlanta will take Sunday off before hosting Minnesota Monday night. The Timberwolves aren't the same caliber of opponent Toronto is, but will demand the same focus and energy the Hawks gave the defending champions. "Every team in the NBA is a good team," Hunter said. "We just have to compete."